Bangkok Bloggers’ Tour with Smiling Albino – CentralWorld, Wat Pho, Golden Mount (Wat Saket)

I had a good time at the Digital Innovation Asia (DIA) – DIAsiaTourism Bangkok earlier in June. Was it just 1 month since then?
Time sure flies!
Ever since then I was very caught up with the Ramadan (fasting month) reviews and I’m glad to see the hard work paid off as many of my friends and readers had emailed me to say that it was a very useful list! If you missed out on the list you can view it –> HERE.

Meanwhile I will be heading to Chengdu next week for a media trip with Air Asia X. And after that a trip to Sandakan Sarawak with the Starwood Group of Hotels. So before I start my story on Chengdu (there would be pandas, majestic mountains & opera shows!) followed by the remote peaceful Sandakan, here’s my Bangkok Tour with the bloggers I met at the DIAsiaTourism Bangkok .

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I’m no stranger to Bangkok. Food, SHOPPING and more SHOPPING tops my to-do list here. But temples, arts and music? Sorry, these are certainly not my priorities. Surprisingly I loved Nepal and spend hours browsing its Durbar Squares (culture sites) but I have not visited any temples in Bangkok, a deeply religious city in Asia.

I make an exception though. The Erawan Shrine is a personal commitment. Ever since an unfortunate incident during the World Gourmet Festival 2012 last September (I was hospitalized), I had made it a point to pay my respect each time I’m here in Bangkok.

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The Bangkok Bloggers Tour by Smiling Albino aims to impart an experience of Bangkok from a perspective rarely seen by the tourist visitor to this City of Angels.

Turn the capital on its heels by using the main forms of Bangkok urban transport to hit the big
sights and Hidden corners of one of the world’s coolest cities in a way that few foreigners have
experienced it.” – was what we were told to expect.

And so I was hooked. A tour that takes me to parts of Bangkok few foreigners has explored? Count me in!

Our tour started from Shangri-La Hotel and towards its nearest BTS Station. We grouped and had a quick briefing before heading out. Our tour that day was focused on getting around Bangkok using its muti-transport system; – BTS, canal boat, tuk tuk, and lastly a private boat.

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Our first destination was the Erawan Shrine.

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This shrine is one of the most popular shrine in Bangkok. It helps too that it’s located right in the heart of the city, within walking distance to the major shoppings malls like CentralWorld, Siam Paragon and Gaysorn. The opulent St Regis Bangkok is also on the same street.

Next was the air-conditioned oasis of CentralWorld. Whoa, a tour that includes mall hopping! I thought with glee. I would certainly recommend Smiling Albino to anyone. 😀

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I got distracted as we strolled in. Oh, that dress looks good. Ah, I should check that shop out. But but but.. we were ushered along to meet our kind hosts from CentralWorld and that didn’t give me any opportunity to hop into any shop at all.

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Over Coffee Bean frappucino and a cake later, we were each given complimentary service to try in CentralWorld itself, whether in the form of manicure, massage or a spa session.

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I would rather have a massage over manicure anytime but that’s what I got so I made the best of it. Each of us went on our individual way to our allocated spa and myself and Audrey, another travel blogger went to Namu, a Korean nail salon. You can check out their FB page here –> https://www.facebook.com/NamuTheKoreanNailLounge.

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The salon is such a pretty place and so is the owner. 😀

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She speaks really good English too. Well, she was in Canada for a while. 🙂

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This is my first time trying gel for my nails so I had a bit of trouble deciding. Anyhow we were lacking in time (a full gel manicure plus 10 fingers nailart takes 2-3 hours!) and since we only have an hour I had to make do with ONE nail with nail art and the rest plain coloured gel nails.

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Say hi to Betty Boop! Isn’t she cute? 😀

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Next was lunch. Also located in CentralWorld, Taling Pling serves authentic Thai cuisine in air conditioned comfort.

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Colours; lots of it. Vibrant and lively. It totally reflects the colourful country and life that is Bangkok.

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We feasted on really really good Thai food; pork, chicken, fried, curried, we enjoyed them all! 🙂

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Can I have the whole bowl please? 🙂

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Sadly we had to bid the our kind hosts from CentralWorld goodbye and continue our journey. We walked out of the cool mall right to the streets of sweltering heat. I don’t know about the rest, but I would gladly stay in the mall! But hey, it’s an adventure day out, so I slapped on more sunblock, held my trusty camera in hand and hit the streets.

We passed the popular street temple of CentralWorld as we exit the mall to make our way to the canal. Our next mode of transport is the boat!

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Good heavens. After so many trips to Bangkok this is my first time to take the boat. I admit I was never keen as I find the canals here scarily filthy. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’m not being uppity but I kept getting visions of the boat overturning and me dumped into the murky water and swallowing (heaven forbid) the canal water.

Below: Such a pretty “umbrella picture”. 🙂

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Traffic in Bangkok is bad. And that’s putting it mildly. This is not even peak hour traffic.

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And thus the importance of the BTS and the canals. And the tuk-tuks and the zippy motorcycles. Have you taken a motorcycle taxi in Bangkok before? They are my favourite! Except when it rains of course. 🙂

One of the “station” for the canal boat is right opposite the Platinum Mall and its named Pratunam Boat Pier. I do not know what to say if you do not know where this mall is!

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Just like a train or bus stop there is a map that shows you the route and people waiting patiently for their ride.

*NOTE: This was taken at where we disembarked.

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The moment the boat stops everyone rushed out. From the way they climb out you would think that it is a stable train on solid ground rather than a rocking boat!

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Similarly, everyone rushed to get on board. But at least everyone was courteous enough to allow the current passengers to alight first.

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I observed this lady that had her hands full performing an acrobatic feat trying to get on board. Phone to ear, heels, skirt and all notwithstanding.

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But when the boat is nowhere to be seen, the river is an oasis of calm.

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Since it’s my first time on the boat, I observed everything around me. Payment applies of course but since that was taken care of by our guide I didn’t ask. It is safe to say it should be less than 50 baht for short distances.

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One of the criteria for the job description of a boat conductor (for the lack of a better term – bus conductor = boat conductor – you get it??) must be agility and a good sense of balance. Here he is standing on top of tyres at the side of the boat and walking along from the back to the front to pick up the tabs.

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The seats are actually pretty comfortable and the ride was generally smooth.

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But if you’re sitting at the sides and if it rains or when the ride gets choppy, do help to hold up the tarpaulin sheets to keep the water from splashing in, thank you very much! 😀

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Life at the riverbanks can be sad, or interesting, depending on how you look it at.

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We disembarked at the stop nearest to the Golden Mount, Wat Saket.

BELOW: Our boat “driver” bidding us farewell. The Thai hospitality was as true as advertised. 🙂

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We walked toward the Golden Mount, up on a hill and along the way shops selling wood and woodworks lined the streets.

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The path leading up to Wat Saket (Golden Mount) is pretty. Statues of the Chinese zodiac animals stood on a row on one side, begging to be photographed while covered shade and benches on the other encourages you to sit down and enjoy the tranquility.

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I do not know how they managed to have an ATM machine installed right here on the roadside at where the visitors’ resting area is!

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To reach the entrance of the Wat Saket one has to climb up a long flight of stairs. I have no issues with stairs and enjoyed the “exercise”. The “mist” you see in the picture below probably comes from a mist machine. But don’t take my word for it! I’m just guessing.

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I looked up, and couldn’t resist taking this shot. It gives me the feeling of being in a rainforest!

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They weren’t joking when they named it “Mount”. It sure took us a few hundred stairs to get to the temple at the top!

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At the top we looked down and some of us reflexively reached for our cameras. I must say it’s not exactly a breathtaking view but your opinion might differ of course. From where we were the rest of the city stretched out as far as the eye can see.

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We moved into the temple itself after that and I took some obligatory shots as our guide diligently fed us with information of Wat Saket.

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Thankfully for most of us there is a resting area for visitors after the climb! 😀

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That was the inside. Then we went out. And took more photos of this.

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And then it was the long trek down.

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Our next mode of transportation was the tuk-tuk – Thailand’s famous 3-wheeled public vehicle.

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Navigating the busy streets easily and swiftly, we found ourselves in front of Wat Pho in less than 30 minutes.

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Entrance to the Wat Pho is usually 100 baht but 200 baht if you need a guide. The place is packed with tourists and locals. However do dress appropriately (no shorts/sleeveless) or you will be handed a robe to wear over your clothes. Shoes are not allowed either so you would have to take them with you in a bag (also provided for free) and upon exit you are supposed to return both robe and shoe bag.

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The Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok. It is home to more than one thousand Buddha images but the largest and most well known of them all is the Reclining Buddha.

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I really like this shot, do you? 🙂

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Like I have mentioned earlier this place is huge. We walked and walked and went shutter happy. Being a popular tourist destination, it is perfectly fine to video or take pictures here.

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There are many sections to the place, both inside and outside and too much information to be detailed here on a single blogpost. Since I’m not particularly knowledgeable on temples and cultural affairs it would be much more advisable for you to read up on Wat Pho on Wikipedia or a dedicated book/site about Bangkok temples.

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Oh, for 200 baht you get free drinking water too! 🙂

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I may not be particularly fond of places of worship but I do appreciate the fine details and craftmanship when I’m in one.

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A lot of effort, time and skill goes into these walls and ornaments.

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At one side of the room was a row of 108 jars. For a donation of 20 baht you will be given a bowl of coins which you can then walk and drop one coin each into the row of jars. The idea is to make your wish as you go along.

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We were then supposed to head to somewhere for drinks before ending the tour but we ended up getting stuck in the temple for another 45 mins as the rain poured!

In the end we took the option of heading straight back to the hotel instead of continuing the tour as we have another DIAsiaTourism event that night.

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Grabbing a taxi at that time was difficult as well so we had to wait til the rain was kinder before we could quickly walk to the nearest pier to catch a boat. In the end our tour guide Lek hired a private boat which took us straight to the Shangri-La Hotel!
That was so much better than stopping at the other canal stations and walking to the BTS or attempting to get another transport to get back to the hotel.

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The weather was stormy and the ride was simply rocky. The boat went fast and water poured in at some parts. Water from both the canal and rain splashed on us. I hung on to my guide for dear life!

We were mostly pretty soaked at the end of the ride but it was exhilarating fun! I held on my camera tightly but took as many shots of my surroundings as possible.

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Dinners on cruise boats? Yea, this is one of them.

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“Riverside” business is good. I spotted many restaurants and hotels on the banks of the river.

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I was really glad when we reached the private “pier” of the Shangri-La Bangkok. We alighted,

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And so that was it!
A day out with my new blogger friends and for the first time I actually visited 3 temples/cultural sites in one day. First time taking the canal transportation in Bangkok and first time getting a gel manicure! What a day! 🙂

I must say thank you to the organisers of DIAsiaTourism and the people of Smiling Albino for the well planned itinerary. Though Bangkok may seem to be an easy city to navigate around, nothing beats the convenience of a KNOWLEDGEABLE tour guide. That, and also having your day planned out for you.
Besides, Smiling Albino are pretty flexible so do contact them if you have other ideas in mind : https://www.facebook.com/smilingalbino